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COVID-19 vaccine mandate forcing Washington state employees to make a decision

Some longtime employees are considering quitting rather than getting the shot.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — They didn’t follow the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine lottery didn’t change their minds.

But would those hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine pass on the shot if it meant losing their jobs?

On Monday, Inslee announced most state employees and health care workers will be required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. The mandate was also adopted by King County and the city of Seattle and includes those working in treatment facilities, assisted living facilities and most contractors, volunteers and other positions that have an onsite presence in any of these workplace settings.

According to Inslee’s office, there will be no alternative for workers who do not want to get the vaccine, meaning those who still choose to not get the shot will no longer be employed with the state or private business.

Two state employees, who did not want to be identified over fear they would lose their jobs if they were identified, said they are contemplating quitting.

“I don’t believe it’s right,” said one woman, adding she has worked in public service positions for nearly 30 years. 

She said retiring early would impact her retirement benefits. But she’s thinking about it. She doesn’t consider the vaccine to be safe.

“I feel I have 27 days to make a decision,” she said, referring to when she would have to initiate the vaccination process to be fully vaccinated by the governor’s deadline of Oct. 18.

Under the emergency order, 40,000 state employees and 400,000 health care workers would need to have their second vaccine by Oct. 4 to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

"He [Inslee] is getting tons of pushback. Nobody wants the vaccine," said one man who said he has worked for the state for 20 years.

The man said he’s thinking about quitting, but may try getting a religious exemption to avoid having to be vaccinated. He believes it’s not safe.

The proclamation does not cover separately elected officials, according to Inslee’s office, nor any boards and commissions or K-12 and higher education institutions. However, the state is urging these groups to adopt an approach similar to Inslee’s approach.

According to Inslee’s office, employers will be responsible for verifying employees’ vaccination status.

The state said it is not opting for a “vaccination or test” approach because it has not seen success in curbing the virus in places like Department of Corrections buildings and long-term care facilities. The plan would also cost about $66 million a year across all state agencies.

The only exemptions will be for those who have a religious or medical reason for not getting vaccinated.

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